J B Pick – The Man Who Let Orwell Explain Why He Wrote
John Pick who died in January 2015 at the age of 93 may have been the last surviving editor to have worked with George Orwell:-
‘His degree studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. As an 18-year-old conscientious objector, he joined the Friends’ Ambulance Service, training in life-saving and hospital work in London during the Blitz. In 1943 he met and married Gene Atkinson. Later in the war he volunteered to work in the coal mines, sharing the miners’ lives for 18 months..
‘After the war he edited a short-lived journal, Gangrel, which published pieces by George Orwell and Henry Miller…He wrote poetry, and Under the Crust (1946) is a sympathetic record of conditions at the coalface from the point of view of a middle-class volunteer, full of memorable vignettes of his fellow miners.
‘A novel of social realism, The Lonely Aren’t Alone (1952), followed, then a satirical one, Land Fit for [‘]Eros (1957), written in partnership with a friend, John Atkins. (Daily Telegraph obituary 1st April 2015)
In fact, despite its short life, Gangrel was responsible for giving the world one of Orwell’s most signficant works, his essay ‘Why I Write’ (Gangrel Number 4, 1946). It can be read on The Orwell Prize website:
It was in ‘Why I Write’ that Orwell explained ‘The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it’.
And Orwell ended ‘one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.’
Pick’s friend, John Atkins, wrote 1954’s George Orwell: A Literary Study, which was described on the cover of the American edition as ‘An appraisal from personal knowledge of the author’. His obituary, which quotes both Orwell and Pick, can be read here:
Pick, the conscientious objector, worked as volunteer coal miner in the War after having already served as an ambulance driver. Orwell, who had been down the mines himself, must have known the strength of character it took to volunteer (conscriptees who were sent to the mines rather than the forces, even the submarine service, regarded the ballot as a ‘disaster’, Orwell wrote in 1944).
BBC Radio 4 program on the Bevin Boy miners (27th May 2015): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vzzyr
From his published criticisms of John Middleton Murray, Alex Comfort and others active in the war-time peace movement, some of whom he called ‘fascifists’, it may seem that Orwell rejected all such men, but given his continued association with Pick and with others such as Reginald Reynolds, who was also a volunteer driver though a C.O., that clearly was not true.